OPERATIONS

Bringing Your ‘A’ Game This Holiday Season

BY Andy Morris, VP, Egremont Group

Brick-and-mortar stores are developing more creative experiences to get customers into the stores this holiday season, but the big question is: Will employees be able to execute? Pressures are at an all-time high to deliver results, as the meteoric growth of online sales throw the rapid decline of physical sales into sharp relief. It is make or break time, with NRF estimating that 69% of Americans plan to shop during Thanksgiving weekend. What exactly can retailers do to capitalize on this critical sales opportunity?

One goal, one vision – everywhere
Everyone — from the stock room to the registers — needs to unite around the vision: What exactly does the ideal customer experience look like? How can we make our products/services exciting for customers? Concentrate on bringing out the best in your team, especially customer-facing employees who have the toughest job. Providing sufficient training in new offerings/services and products will help them realize their real role: being brand ambassadors, rather than crowd marshals.

Every team member should understand the value of their role and how they can influence the customer experience. This is more important than ever in the new store layouts, where staff serve as guides, personal shoppers and consultants. Take the time to educate temporary seasonal staff about company culture, merchandise and store layout to embed them in the team. Experience has shown that informed staff who themselves feel special will pass on that warmth to customers.
Holiday take-away #1 – Happy, motivated and informed staff equal happy, informed customers

This time, it’s personal…
Personalized experiences may seem like an impossible dream inside big chain stores, but ensuring customer-facing employees have the right skills and attitude can make all of the difference.

Take Walmart, for instance. Anticipating long lines and frustrated customers, Walmart has “holiday helpers” in all of its stores for the season whose primary job is to direct customers to the shortest lines, hand out candy canes and even make quick runs for forgotten items. Their ability to truly ease some of the customer pain will ultimately boil down to how effectively they exude a helpful attitude and have the right kind of training to appropriately do their job.

Meanwhile, Lowe’s is rolling out its new Smart Home Technology store-within-a-store pilot to more locations, providing customers with a dedicated space to test various smart home products. These pop-up stores are a great way to showcase specialized merchandise and generate additional revenue, but can quickly fail if knowledgeable staff aren’t in-place to field questions, troubleshoot problems and discuss the finer details.

Invest in employee training so all retail floor employees are armed with everything they need to cross sell and link sell to help create more personalized experiences for customers. Simple gestures, such as a heartfelt recommendation to a customer shopping with their family about visiting another department, can lead to unexpected sales.

Back this up with additional customer services. Traditional extended opening times are a given, but same/next-day click and collect or order in-store and home delivery will decrease reliance on the over-stretched postal service and give shoppers a chance to bypass the crowds. Success isn’t solely dependent on the store teams; the whole ‘machine’—from shop to warehouse floors—needs to be tuned in and aligned.
Holiday take-away #2 – Physical stores can win by making the experience personal

The Commander in Chief
Active and dynamic leadership is essential. The department head or store manager is part conductor, part quarterback, constantly taking the pulse of the team and customers to adjust course quickly to maximize the customer conversion rate from footfall to purchase. When the lines get too long, how can they be shifted or moved through the checkouts quicker? Is the ratio between selling and restocking staff correct? What are the issues that are diverting sales?

Scenario planning with the whole team ahead of time will ease conflicts. When staff understand the need to be flexible and operate in a number of different areas, it will not come as a shock when they are asked to do so on short notice. Leaders must strike a fine balance between maintaining an oversight role of all operations and getting into the weeds when it’s necessary. Nothing affects morale in a busy team more than a leader who doesn’t roll up their sleeves.
Holiday take-away #3 – Modern retail leaders need to balance performance and preparation

The review loop
Creating a nimble, customer-oriented experience requires a steady stream of input from the center of the action. The disciplined sequence of Planning, Doing and Reviewing to create a robust feedback loop enables all staff to get involved and helps to establish a culture of accountability rather than blame.

Foster a culture where it is ok to fail, backed up with the ability to quickly fix any problems. Giving a voice to the front-line staff reassures them that their contribution is valued and can inspire them to give their best. Encourage all employees to take pride in their observations of what’s working and what’s broken, and use the intelligence to fine-tune and upgrade the customer experience. Transparency can help create a roadmap for the future that everyone can stand behind.
Holiday take-away #4 – Learn and adjust in the moment based on customer and team feedback

Seize the holiday – carpe ferias!
With e-commerce sales over holiday periods growing 20% between 2015 to 2016, and gaining every year, the clock is ticking for in-store retailers. Customers simply won’t suffer poor experiences in-store; the few opportunities that exist to ‘wow’ your audience must be grabbed. It’s time to bring your A game…

Andy Morris is VP and head of Egremont Group’s global retail practice.

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